Step-mothers and half-sisters… | The Nosey Genealogist's: Help Me With My Family Tree
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Step-mothers and half-sisters…

by Nick Thorne, The Nosey Genealogist on July 9th, 2010

Ancestral Trails-The Complete Guide to British Genealogy and Family HistoryI really recommend that you read Mark Herber’s book Ancestral Trails, if you haven’t already. I was looking again at the first chapter in what is one of the best books on United Kingdom Ancestry and Genealogy there is.

This really is a wonderful book with much help for genealogical researchers and includes a brilliant section on understanding family relationships.

What? Is Nick telling us about some sort of self-help publication aimed at men and women going through a bad patch in their relationships? No, this tome has some useful things to say about the different phrases such as: stepfather/mother; half-brother/sister and so on.  Herber tells us, in simple terms, that the term “step” denotes that there is simply no blood connection connecting the parties and so the only sort of connection is going to be through marriage. “Half” is actually something different again. This is where the actual people share but one mother or father in common.

Now, because I have a stepmother, a half-sister and I also once had a step-grandfather, until he passed away, on my mother’s side, I am acutely aware of these terms. So, while all these relationships are inescapable fact, I shudder to myself as soon as I see these somewhat cold terms used to identify people whom I love dearly. It seems to me that, in using these prefixes, that I may be accused of trying to distance myself from these members of my family for some reason. Well I’d like to say here and now that this is far from the truth when it comes to my close family step, half or what ever they may be. When we are noting down our Family history, however, we sometimes have to be very precise in explaining a relationship to someone and so detail exactly how and where a person fits into our family tree. None more difficult than when we are confronted with illegitimacy in our lines.

Maybe in the twentieth century, to be born to parents who are unmarried carries little stigma, in the past it was a very different story; thus it ought to be handled sensitively whenever addressing loved ones of a different generation.

Returning to this chapter, provided by Mark Herber’s handbook, I was amused to realise that I had forgotten about defining cousins relationships. Whilst attending a family marriage, a few years back, I was introduced by Jenny, my first-cousin-once-removed to one of her friends of her own age group. Jenny said that I was her “Mum’s cousin” and in this she turned out to be wholly correct in this explanation of how we were related. As Herber pronounces: “Relationships involving cousins are more complex. Cousins are usually people who share an actual common ancestor… The offspring of a pair of siblings happen to be “first” cousins of each other. All the offspring of two first cousins are “second” cousins of each other and so on.”

Okay so far, but then we move on to deal with completely different generations. The word we utilise to be able to denote this is “removed” hence my first cousin’s daughter is my cousin once removed. As soon as she had a child it became my first cousin twice removed. We need to determine the number of intervening generations between ourselves and the particular common ancestor and utilize that number prior to the word “removed”. Now at this point comes the bit that I had forgotten!

“The concept “removed” is generally only used to express relationships down a family tree.” Therefore this had been precisely why Jenny, my first cousin once removed, as a child of my first cousin Julie is accurate as soon as she referred to me as her “mum’s cousin”

At this point closes the pedant’s lesson for today! 🙂

Mark Herber’s book Ancestral Trails obtainable from most good bookstores.

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